FRACKING in the Cotswolds could become commonplace after the government announced that energy companies are now able to bid for controversial licences that will allow them to drill for natural gas in the region’s countryside.

A map issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change shows that the Cotswolds, and other parts of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, have been identified as areas with a sufficient supply of shale gas deposits.

Hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as fracking, is a technique designed to recover natural gas from shale rocks buried deep beneath the ground.

Fracking companies are now being invited to bid against one another to acquire the relevant licences to carry out exploratory shale drilling in the Cotswolds.

A spokesman for the DECC told the Standard that, in addition to a government licence, companies would also need permission from landowners and the planning authority before drilling can begin.

Local campaigners have slammed the news with many saying that it will be detrimental to the iconic Cotswold landscape.

“I think a lot of people are beginning to realise just how much fracking will affect our environment. It really isn’t suitable for this part of the country,” said Dr Jonathan Whittaker, a Cirencester dentist who has carried out extensive research on fracking.

“The latest poll said that 47 per cent of people are against fracking and that only 17 per cent are in favour of it, with the rest being undecided,” he said.

The government has suggested that a major fracking effort would deliver about 25 per cent of the country’s annual gas needs and create around 35,000 jobs.

Many believe that fracking could also drive gas prices down, although this has been disputed by Cirencester-based Green Party member Bob Irving.

He said: “A large part of the Cotswolds is not even connected to mains gas anyway. Residents could have gas being pumped out of the bottom of their street but not see any of the benefits.”

Mr Irving also warned that, should drilling go ahead, a whole new road network would have to be built in order to accommodate lorries travelling to the fracking sites.

Even though all of Wiltshire is included in the map showing areas under consideration for licencing, Clive Humphries, founder member of Keep Wiltshire Frack Free said there was little awareness in the county of the fracking issue. “That is one reason why I started the group.”

He suggested: “Ignorance, maybe apathy. That will all change once the first cases of pollution come to light, which they inevitably will.”

“Most of our politicians seem to be in denial that there is any harm to anyone from fracking.”

Speaking last year, North Wiltshire MP James Gray said that he was very much in favour of fracking if it could help deliver the country’s energy needs.

While Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, said that any proposal of fracking would need to be subjected to an extensive public consultation.

Despite fracking licences being up for grabs, Alan Bently, acting strategic development manager, at Gloucestershire County Council, said currently there were no planning applications for fracking in the county.